Jul 312007

A Labor advisory paper recommends freeing up some conditions on how states spend $30 billion in specific purpose payments (SPPs) – funding which is tied to particular programs and which must meet certain federal requirements.
…..The Australian

JWH and cohorts don’t seem to appreciate the import of the of the above report released today by Labor. Frankly, it seems blindingly obvious to me that if you take away restrictions to the purse, and allow carte blanch on the proviso that this is all there is, there ain’t n’more, the so-called blame game becomes a non-event. Clearly, this report and proposal by Rudd Labor places the Howard government under certain political pressure because of the failure of the Murray-Darling plan, and the distinct lack of ongoing public interest in the Commonwealth’s intervention into aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. It’s obvious that not everyone has the blind trust and faith in the good intentions of the Howardian Cabal that JWH claims everyone does.

In times past, Howard claimed himself to be a Federalist, yet today, he mouthed another set of words. It’s also amusing to note that the man who once identified Howard as ‘mean and tricky’ has also warned that if one mouths the words of Federalism, one must be prepared to act accordingly. Clearly, Howard is not prepared to act in accordance with his stated beliefs.

Howard also makes another highly contentious claim in today’s “look-at-me” doorstop.

“I think the public wants the Federal Government to insist on standards which are common throughout the nation. We are one people, we’re not a collection of states any more, we are one people and the Australian people want these things addressed on a national basis.”

Are we one people? In what sense? Do we really want to abandon Federalism and hand over the running of everything to a pack of possibly power-crazed megalomaniacs sitting in Canberra, or heritage listed publically owned premises in Sydney? Australia is a big place. As big as the continental United States of Yankmania and they have 50 states under a Federalist regime. Admittedly, the US has 15 times our population, but the benefits of Federalism are easily seen. Look at California as an example. The world’s tenth largest economy. Now it’s a stretch to claim that Queensland or W.A. can make like claims, but I wonder if the inhabitants of Cloncurry or Hall’s Creek are prepared to allow the responsibility for highway maintenance to vest with a remotely located Federal department in Canberra?

Personally, I enjoy being a Queenslander, despite the ragging we get from time to time. I enjoy being parochial. I dare say the sandgropers, crows, mexicans and all the other parochialisms which abound to describe those inhabitants of other states feel the same. I’m also an Australian, but I’m a proud Queenslander first. Does state politics create logjams in the provision of services? Indeed, and Howard makes that claim, yet Howard isn’t prepared to – as Jim Middleton asked – put his money where his mouth is and put it to the people. He’s not prepared to countenance changes to the GST distribution structure. He’d rather not challenge the power and rigidity of the Constitution by asking the people. He’d rather do what he so desperately wants done by regulation. Effectively, by stealth.

Will Rudd’s proposal work? We’ll never know unless it’s tried, but surely in the interests of Federalism, it’s worth a try. I don’t doubt that at some point, the Commonwealth will need to take a greater hand in issues like health and transport infrastructure, but honestly, that input could be useful now. Of course, we all know that the current angst which exists between States and Commonwealth is purely a product of ideology and self-interests. Will things be different under an all-Labor spread? We’ll never know unless we allow it to happen. As for Howard’s claims that Labor is abandoning what the people really want……we’ll find out what the people really want later this year, won’t we.

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